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Nutrition for Active and Healthy Aging

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Conjuring protein from thin air

Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Mar 19, 2020 in Protein, Technology

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s true: scientists have worked out how to make protein from air – with the help of teeny, microscopic bacteria called hydrogenotrophs.


The protein is highly nutritious, free from pesticides or herbicides and sustainable – a welcome solution for feeding a growing population without destructive tree lopping and land clearing.



Inspired by NASA


The founder of “Air Protein” in the US, Lisa Dyson, was inspired by NASA research in the 1960s that investigated how to convert the carbon dioxide breathed out by astronauts into food.


The technology was never commercialised, but Dyson and co-founder John Reed saw the potential, and the imperative considering our over-encumbered planet with dwindling resources.


The hydrogenotrophs – “nature’s supercharged carbon recyclers” – feed on CO2 and convert it into food with the help of hydrogen from water, synthesising the gas into cellular material.


Kiverdi likens it to age-old traditions that use fermentation to make yoghurt, beer and sauerkraut. “Basically you have different microorganisms – use different inputs and you get different outputs,” she explains.


A Finnish company, “Solar Foods”, has also cottoned on, producing protein they call “Solein” in a lab outside Helsinki.


Making the air protein requires a bioreactor that feeds the microbes with renewable energy or biomass, creating within hours what it can take months for plants to do, independently from climatic conditions and seasons.


Compared to soybeans, Dyson estimates the microbes can produce 10,000 times more food per land area using 2,000 times less water.


And the protein content – with a full complement of amino acids – is higher, producing 70-80% compared to 30-50%. It also contains vitamin B12, making it an ideal vegan food source.



From bacteria to market, and beyond


The flavourless end product looks like a powder, which can be used as a base for making nutritious protein shakes, pasta, cereals, snacks and “meatless meat” burgers.


While Solein is still in the pilot stage, aiming to open a demonstrator plant in 2022, Dyson’s team is currently working on recipe development and a taste profile, planning to announce its products this year.


Meanwhile, other creative solutions for nutritious, environmentally friendly protein includes insects – and you don’t have to eat them whole (although some people do); you can eat nutritious cricket protein in the form of powder or energy bars.


Other more palatable alternatives include legumes, quinoa, nuts and hemp.


These are all viable options for aged care centres committed to sustainability while helping residents meet their much needed protein requirements.







Cost of Malnutrition 

Our Cost of Malnutrition report outlines the problem of malnutrition and its various costs – both financial and physical – and offers a guide to its identification and management.

Download your free report HERE



Exergaming a salve for aging hazards

Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Mar 12, 2020 in Aging, Exercise, Technology

In a growing trend to harness the positive potential of technology for our aging population, researchers have created video games for older adults that take exercise and multitasking to new dimensions.


One study had people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, riding stationary bikes while playing video games, improving their memory and other complex cognitive functions.


Another team used interactive video games to improve people’s reflexes and quick-stepping to reduce risk of falls – another major problem with aging – and are following it up with a gambling-style approach to get players addicted to exercise.



Chasing dragons and exotic fruits


Building on previous success improving cognitive health with interactive exergaming, Cay Anderson-Hanley from the University of Queensland recruited three groups of older adults with MCI.


For six months, two groups road along a scenic virtual reality bike path or chased dragons and collected coins on stationary bikes placed at several different sites and completed cognitive tests.


Their results were compared with another group that played video games on a laptop without pedalling, and a previous research cohort that rode stationary bikes without gaming.


Both the first two groups showed improvements in verbal memory, physical health and the brain’s executive functions – higher order cognitive abilities.


“Executive function is like the CEO of the brain. It is key to remaining independent in later life,” says Anderson-Hanley. “For example, it allows you to cook two things on the stove at once. It makes sure you don’t forget that you are boiling the water while also having something in the oven.”


The stepping game, “StepKinnection”, is a Wii-style program that gets players travelling the world collecting exotic fruits from 32 different countries by stepping quickly on the items as they appear. Repeating this action while gradually increasing speed and difficulty improves reflexes and balance.


The game turned out to a be popular way to get active, and players showed 17 per cent improvement in reflexes, ability to take quick steps and walking ability.


Encouraged by these findings, lead researcher Jaime Garcia, from the University of Technology in Sydney, is now linking a computerised Solitaire card game to physical activity to see if rewards for moving around encourage older adults to be more active.


Their activity levels are monitored with a Fitbit activity tracker and if they go for a walk they are given money that can be used to play Solitaire.


“In this approach, we are trying to make exercise one of the game mechanics. If you go for a walk, we give you money and that money can be used in the game,” Garcia told Australian Ageing Agenda.


If they want to play, they must exercise or miss out. And the more they walk, the more money they get to play, which Garcia hopes will get them addicted to the game.



Lifestyle solutions


These novel approaches underpin a global imperative to get people more active – a critical lifestyle approach to aging well, especially important at a time when people are moving less.


It’s established that staying active is one of the cornerstones of preventing dementia, and that fast walking is linked to healthier aging. Even people who are virtually immobilised with dementia can benefit from personalised movement.


And although some are trying to find easy alternatives like taking a pill, there’s just no substitute for moving our limbs, strengthening muscles and getting the blood gushing through our veins.





Image source: Cay Anderson-Hanley





Cost of Malnutrition 

Our Cost of Malnutrition report outlines the problem of malnutrition and its various costs – both financial and physical – and offers a guide to its identification and management.

Download your free report HERE



Aging and the perks of technology – part 2

Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Oct 24, 2018 in Technology


Today’s older generation would remember manual typewriters and public phone boxes. Some might even recall when television first entered people’s homes.


The technology explosion in recent decades may seem overwhelming to many. But it promises countless benefits for older adults.


Not only can it enhance social engagement and leisure time, technology could help retain independence and provide peace of mind for family members.



Health monitoring


Wearable devices are used by fitness enthusiasts to monitor heart rate and energy expenditure. They can also track blood pressure and blood sugar levels to enable health monitoring and preventive medicine for older adults.


Cloud-based software enables this information to be collected and sent to doctors, making it easier for them to collate health data and deliver care remotely.


New software for the devices also includes mobile connectivity for ease of contacting family any time and GPS tracking to check older relatives’ location.


Other researchers from Monash University have been working on a non-invasive home monitoring apparatus that can gather data on normal movement patterns and send alerts when someone has been uncharacteristically inactive for a long period of time.


The devices are designed to be plugged into power points throughout the house, so they bypass the need for cameras to maintain privacy.


These technologies offer benefits for aged care as well. Providing professionals with comprehensive health data can free them up to deliver preventive and more personalised care.


The monitoring systems could reduce staff burden and improve patient safety.


“Currently, we rely on passing staff members to discover patients or residents after they have experienced an incident,” says Steven Faux from St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.


“The value of the sensors is that the movements can be detected without affecting a patient’s privacy.”



Telehealth and accessibility


Telehealth is defined by the International Organisation for Standardisation as “the use of telecommunication techniques for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical education, and health education over a distance”.


This has obvious advantages for farmers and other rural dwellers in Australia’s outback, whose technology perks already include internet banking, shopping e-commerce.


Telehealth offers further benefits in health care, including diagnosis, treatment and preventive medicine, and overcoming challenges of distance and relocating health professionals.


Medical consultations using video conferencing, data, images and information can be transmitted without the need for physical travel or relocation.


Grafton Base Hospital in northern NSW is successfully using Telehealth to improve care in surrounding Residential Aged Care Facilities and reduce hospital admissions.


The cost savings are obvious, but there are several hurdles to overcome. This includes perception and acceptance of the technology and potential privacy issues.


Other obstacles include computer illiteracy, training and support, initial setup costs, and legal challenges related to managing the rapid growth of health data, health information transfer and remote consultations.






Aging and the perks of technology – part 1

Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Oct 19, 2018 in Technology

It’s been said that “to live is to play”. A bonus of aging is more time for leisurely pursuits. Indeed, a 2016 UK study reported that leisure activities and hobbies were by far the most popular aspirations for older adults.


While for many that might mean reading that long list of books or hitting some golf balls, our technocratic society has a smorgasbord of other entertainment options – including gaming and robots.


And the technologies are not just for fun – researchers are exploring ways they can improve health and quality of life.



Digital gaming for seniors


German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom is leading the way with the game Sea Hero Quest. “More than a game”, they say, it’s a “quest to save the human brain”.


Players chart a course as a sea captain “through complex waterways, desert islands and icy oceans”, meeting challenges and gaining ratings to entice them to keep playing.


In the process, they role play a sailor whose father is losing his memory, and have to rely on old sea journals to help piece his past together.


This relates to the game’s dual purpose: while providing entertainment, it also gathers real-time data on players’ eye, head and navigation movements for dementia research.


Navigational skills are one of the first to fail with dementia onset, so the aim is to provide a more advanced early detection system for this degenerative neurological disease.


They’re well on their way – just two minutes of playing Sea Hero Quest delivers around 5 hours’ worth of lab-based research. So far, they have data equating to more than 12,000 years of research in the lab.


Other researchers are involved in the Worthplay project. Its focus is researching prototype digital games for older adults, to develop interactive games that can contribute to active aging and enhanced wellbeing.



Paro the robotic seal and friends


Paro is a soft, cuddly robot that looks like a baby harp seal. He has a soothing effect on aged care residents, according to Vicki Boyd from the Gunther Village aged care home in Queensland.


Using artificial intelligence, he responds to touch with movement and sound, and like a pet, provides comfort and companionship. Aged care workers have found his calming influence a great help for dementia patients, who can become distressed and agitated. They’ve also found that he can provide a point of conversation and jokes, hence facilitating social interaction.


Another “emotionally intelligent” robot is called Bobby, a Japanese social robot designed to provide support and friendship.


Rajiv Khosla, professor at La Trobe university, says his evaluations found that Bobby robots – who look more like a mini R2D2 – helped older adults feel more relaxed and productive.


On a more practical front, other researchers are working on robots that can assist with activities of daily living to help older adults retain independence and reduce caregiver burden. This might include housework, eating, bathing, dressing and standing up.


The robots could remind people to eat or take their medication, sense when they fall over and sound an alarm, or even – looking further ahead – ferry them to doctors’ appointments as autonomous cars become a reality.